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Subject: Cultural Studies »

Mabel Wang about David's rise into Melbourne City Council

Mara Moustafine and Mabel Wang.

Mabel Wang details David's rise through business and into Melbourne City Council



Date Added:

16 February 2009


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Well when we first came we didn’t have any money, we didn’t even have the money to buy our tickets back because, you know the Chinese money was worth nothing and – but my dad helped us a lot, we lived at home for a short time, until we moved to live above our shop and from then we started importing – we imported from – through Hong Kong all Asian goods. And in those days very few people were doing this kind of business. So we really had a market all to ourselves. So time – it was – we were lucky, we were in the right place at the right time I suppose.


And we did quite well. You eventually had quite a big business, we had a few shops, we had warehouse – we did import – we did the whole lot, we did the importing, the wholesaling and the retailing. We did the whole lot. So you know, it was a big business and –


He always wanted to do something difficult and something that was challenging. I think that first of all Mr Calwell nominated him to become a JP and then after he became a JP he took some lessons and he actually sat in the court, the local court at Camberwell. And he’d do that once a month, sit at the court. So that was something special for him, to come from where he came from to be able to sit at a court even though it was you know, the local, you know, court it was still something that you’d never dream that you’d come from a peasant background be able to do that.


So then, from then some people suggested, “Why don’t you try for the Melbourne City Council?” So then he thought, “Oh well that’s a good idea, I’ll try that too.” So we worked very hard and he worked out the whole campaign himself, he organised the whole campaign down to the last, you know, smallest detail. And we all helped him, we all worked hard we all folded all those thousands of things you have to send out and we knocked on everybody’s door. And all our Jewish friends helped.


It was 1969 and there was still – the White Australia Policy had just officially finished in 1965. He’d only become Australian in 1962. He’d just become naturalised and then he became a JP. And he only became naturalised in ’62 because we wanted to go overseas and he didn’t have a passport. So he had to get naturalisation to get a passport and we’d done all this business, overseas business but we’d never been outside of Australia. And so we luckily got him – he – you know, he pushed and you know, he always could ring up somebody and get something earlier so he got his passport and we went overseas for the first time in 1962.


In those days, all the councillors were big business people, people who were really members of the Melbourne Club, the Athenaeum Club you know, those kind of people, the really, really top notch people, so he was one of these new outsiders who was trying to get in. And luckily, in a way luckily, the councillor who was there was very popular but he was very elderly and because my husband opposed him, he resigned and so we had a – launched a very strong campaign, another person took the other chap’s place, nominated in his place but we beat him by – we actually worked hard and knocked on every door, spoke to everybody on the phone, and he got in. Which is amazing, because he was a Chinese, who could hardly speak English [laughs] and coming from overseas...


And so when he got elected the news went all across Asia. So we got cuttings back from all our friends overseas that he – a Chinese had got in.


Was this the first Chinese who had been elected..?



Well no, there was actually a Chinese in Darwin but he was born here. My husband was the first one who was not born here to get in.


And how did he make these speeches?



Well, he worked very hard at his speeches, it took – he took – he had an English teacher and he took English lessons twice a week, he would practise every night in his study, every night of his life he practised English. And he’d write these speeches, sometimes I would help him correct the grammar, sometimes his teacher would help him correct the grammar but the speeches he wrote himself. And they were really good speeches I actually have kept copies of his speeches.


And so he did very well, he spoke slowly, clearly and he always put something humorous in there. To make people, you know, make it feel more comfortable.


Well there was – there was one councillor who wasn’t. And he wanted to bring in a motion that you couldn’t read a speech. You were not going to be allowed to read a speech, but the motion didn’t go through of course, he read his speech. So he said, “I’ll either read it..” No, he said, “I’ll either memorise it or you can imagine me memorising it or..” You know, he said that in reply, or, “I’ll pretend- I’ll pretend I’m not reading it.” He was a – there was a Keep Australia Beautiful council that he actually did a – it’s hard to explain but he wanted to do it ward by ward, in the city wards, not outside in the suburbs.


Each ward there would be a ward person in charge of their own ward and he would get the people who live in the ward to look after their district – their little area. So the whole of the city, what came under the city would be kept clean and beautiful. You know, and it was like – a little bit like a communist way of doing things, you know. You have these – the leader of this street, you know and they look after those people and you’ve got to do this and that. And there was the same sort of idea I suppose and it worked well –


End transcript